For a long time, Google exercised absolute control over the regulations governing how Android should be used in India, the second-largest smartphone market in the world. App developers, too, had to adhere to Google’s guidelines alongside users.
However, all of this went for a toss this week when Google changed its policies for the Android platform in India on Wednesday after suffering a significant setback last week when attempting to have an antitrust order blocked by the Indian Supreme Court. These significant reforms result from how New Delhi is gradually holding platforms like Google accountable for the level of influence they exercise in the tech sector.
Here’s How These Changes Will Change The Face Of The Indian Android Industry
1. Users Will Get The Liberty To Choose The Default Search Engine
As they set up a new smartphone, Google will now ask Android users in India to select their own search engine. Android users may choose a different search engine, but they must look for the option in the settings menu.
When setting up the device, the new option will enable all users to select a search engine of their choice, such as Bing or DuckDuckGo. Following a European Commission antitrust ruling, Google made analogous modifications in Europe. Google had stated at the time that search engines that wanted to be listed had to be eligible to take part in the decision screen.
Google has yet to indicateyet indicated if it will allow competing search engines in India, as it did in Europe. This is significant because, unlike Europe, where there are numerous smaller firms like Ecosia and Qwant, India does not have Google competitors.
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2. Additional Assistance For Forked Operating System Variations
A significant shift that might foster competition in the market for mobile operating systems is that smartphone manufacturers will now have the possibility to create certified, forked versions of Android. This action opens the doors for BharOS, a native mobile operating system created by a startup supported by the state-owned IIT-Madras, to coexist successfully with Android OS.
Google has already come under fire for limiting Android forks. The South Korean government penalised Google 207.4 billion Won (about $177 million) in 2021 for preventing phone manufacturers from using altered versions of Android. The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) had alleged that Google had entered into anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA) with manufacturers that forbade them from altering the operating system.
‘BharOS' is a successful start towards data privacy, and an important initiative towards strong, indigenous & #Aatmanirbhar digital infrastructure in India. pic.twitter.com/npOwYzDyLR— MyGovIndia (@mygovindia) January 24, 2023
Even though Android is an open-source operating system, if a phone manufacturer signs an AFA, it must follow Google’s guidelines. This would forbid a manufacturer like Samsung from offering a forked version of Android, even if they wanted to do so in smartphone series other than the Galaxy.
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3. Phone Manufacturers Can License Individual Google Apps
Although it doesn’t impact consumers much, Indian phone manufacturers will now be able to licence Google apps individually. This is a significant break from the business’s policy of choosing Google Mobile Services (GMS), which grants permission for Gmail, Google Maps, and the Google Play store to be installed on smartphones sold nationwide. Google claims to allow smartphone manufacturers to “licence particular Google apps” for pre-installation on their products.
Xiaomi can include only the Google Search app, lowering its cost when it releases a smartphone. Elimination of the Google Mobile Services (GMS) charges businesses may now be able to offer Android handsets for less than Rs 3,000, creating a new market for extremely cheap phones in India.
4. Clears Pathways For Sideloading Of Apps & Third-Party Billing
Installing apps from places other than the Google Play Store has always been possible on the Android operating system. However, users will now be able to update sideloaded programmes, and independent app shops will be able to do so, like the Play Store.
However, Google cautions users first to identify the security risks of letting third-party sources install updates automatically before enabling the function.
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In addition, Google is allowing customers in India to select a billing method other than Google Play when making in-app purchases. This could help app and game developers because they will receive a larger cut of the revenue. Google had previously announced a pilot programme that would let Spotify use their own payment systems for Android instead than the normal Google Play billing, for which Google will still charge a service fee.